In August of 1999, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) agreed to undertake a comprehensive study of the remote sensing and geospatial information industry in the United States. Their ultimate goal was to develop a continuing forecast of the remote sensing industry. In 2002, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) formally joined NASA and ASPRS to support the documentation and analysis of the forecast and to provide further information to the private sector and government agencies.
An estimated 175,000 people are employed in the rapidly growing U.S. remote sensing and geospatial information segment of the much larger information industry.
Prior to this study, few comprehensive data about the industry, and no reliable, unbiased assessments of the industry’s future existed. This study is an attempt to remedy these limitations by combining the experience of the talented volunteers of the membership of ASPRS with the knowledge, experience and resources of NASA, NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in a continuing forecast of the industry and the key factors that affect it.
The forecast is composed of three phases to date. Phase I, which was completed in December 2000, characterized the industry and developed a financial and activity baseline and an initial forecast. Phase II, completed in 2002, centered on the identification and assessment of the end users of remote sensing and geospatial information products. Phase III focused on validating the results of Phase I and II and delivering an updated technology and market assessment, especially given the potential impacts on the industry following the events of September 11, 2001 . Post-Phase III (Phases IV and on) activities will center on developing a revised market forecast and standardizing methods for continuing the rolling forecast (Figure 1).
|Figure 1 - 2010 percentage of respondents in application areas estimated|
Industry members hold an optimistic view of future industry growth, estimating that it will increase by 9 to 14 percent per year.
The industry is undergoing rapid change as technology improves, and potential clients realize the benefits of using geospatial data and analytical technologies for their information needs. In 2001, the industry gained estimated revenues totaling $2.4 billion, not including sales of satellite systems and aircraft platforms. Based on the 2000 and 2001 surveys of gross revenue, the industry currently appears to be growing at rates of between 9 and 14 percent per annum. Phase III of the forecast assessed the effects of September 11, 2001 , on industry growth. Consistent with the contraction of the U.S. economy since 2001, study respondents reduced their growth projections in Phase II to nine percent over the next few years (from 14 percent in Phase I) (Figure 2).
|Figure 2 - estimated geospatial sales II 1998-2010 percentage|
Survey responses revealed that most firms in the industry are relatively small (fewer than 100 employees) and are focused on providing specific, narrowly defined services or data. By contrast, the few large firms (greater than 500 employees) generally provide a wide range of services. Most of the civilian remote-sensing industry involves the provision of mapping and engineering applications needed by governments at all levels. The many smaller firms that undergird the industry are less inclined to support internal research and development (R&D) and workforce development, are more affected by governmental competition with their services, and are less able to meet foreign competition forcefully.
Aerial Imagery: Competitive or Complementary?
Contrary to the expectations of some analysts, the introduction to the market of high-resolution satellite imagery has enhanced, rather than undercut, sales of data acquired from aerial platforms. Both segments have experienced growth and tend to complement each other (Figure 3).
|Figure 3 - Areas estimated baseline sales forecast: aerial vs. space|
Over the past decade, the commercial remote-sensing industry has experienced significant technological change and improved market penetration. New sensor technologies, both in aerial and space systems, offer a myriad of new information capabilities.
The development of high-resolution commercial satellites (better than 1 meter black and white and 2.5 meter multispectral) has opened new data and new collection methodologies to the ultimate information customer. In response, in part, to competition from satellite remote sensing, the aerial industry has also developed new methods of capturing geospatial data in computer-friendly digital form. Initially, some analysts believed that satellites would usurp aerial’s market share, but this survey shows that both segments are growing and augmenting each other. In several cases, satellite and aerial data producers have formed strategic partnerships to enhance each other’s market opportunities.
More than in most other businesses, growth opportunities for private firms and academia are tightly coupled with the information needs at all levels of government.
Federal, state, and local governments participate in the remote sensing marketplace by purchasing data and services and by providing R&D funding. Government agencies constitute the largest single class of customers for data and services. They also hire analysts with skills in RS/GIS. Industry interactions occur primarily business-to-business and business to government, with minimal direct interaction with citizen consumers. As a result, the private sector is heavily influenced by governmental involvement in the marketplace.
Much of the civilian R&D for both government and private sector takes place in academic institutions. The future workforce for the industry depends on the viability and responsiveness of the academic community to the rapidly changing technological developments and skill needs of the industry.
Federal government policies, developed and refined over the years, have had a major influence over the development of the market for remote sensing data, new technologies and other applications within the geospatial industry. Conversely, inconsistency in governmental policy has introduced extra uncertainty and risk for the industry.
Federal funding has developed the basic technologies for all forms of satellite remote sensing and contributed markedly to the development of advanced airborne instruments, such as light detection and ranging (LIDAR), interferometric synthetic aperture radar (IFSAR, INSAR), and hyperspectral digital sensors. For stated reasons of national security, the federal government has limited the development of high-resolution civilian satellite sensors and maintained sharp boundaries between the technologies developed for national security and for civilian uses.
In the early 1990s, more liberal federal policies began to promote the use of satellite data for a wide variety of uses. As government at all levels is the primary purchaser of data, the price and licensing of data are key issues evolving in the private sector, especially in the satellite domain. Inconsistent, or highly variable, governmental policies are particularly worrisome because they introduce an extra element of risk for industry, especially for satellite data firms. In order to stay in business, these firms need supportive governmental policies that allow them to recoup the massive investments they have made in modern satellite technology. By comparison to the satellite segment of the industry, the aerial market is very large and has a profitable, more assured business model.
On April 25, 2003 , the White House issued a new commercial remote-sensing policy that further eased previous restrictions on the commercial collection and sale of satellite remotely-sensed data. Among other things, the new policy provides guidance for establishing a “long-term, sustainable relationship between the United States Government and the U.S. commercial remote sensing space industry.”
Phase III results regarding the real and potential effects of the attacks of September 11, 2001 on governmental policy indicate that increased restrictions on the public availability of geospatial information have had a negative effect on organizations producing geospatial data and information, especially in data export, airspace restrictions and data purveyance to the public. The user community, primarily civilian government and private sector, cited little change in 2002 and anticipated minimal impacts in the future.
Many industry decisionmakers recognize that keeping data prices low and eliminating data-use restrictions for government-supplied low- and moderate-resolution satellite data have helped to stimulate the commercial market while providing a public geospatial infrastructure meeting many data needs. The prices charged for commercial satellite data products must recover the costs of developing, building, and operating the satellite system, just as they must for aerial data services.
Many educators have expressed considerable anxiety about future access to data, not only with respect to funds to acquire data, but also the right to use and share new, advanced data with few restrictions. The federal government could assist the academic community to improve its research capacity and the development of more efficient ways to apply improved data by underwriting more of the data costs for research and education.
In some disciplines, government agencies may compete with commercial entities in the provision of data and services. Some commercial suppliers of data and value-added services voiced strong concern about perceived government competition with these suppliers.
The development of a capable workforce is of major concern for continued industry growth. Graduates are not entering the workforce in sufficient numbers or with sufficient training in the latest technologies and techniques. Lack of retention of entry level workers is hampering the long-term health of the industry.
Governmental and private sector leaders declared a strong need for properly educated and trained entry-level employees. This need has become more pronounced as market growth has increased, and much of the workload has shifted from the government to the private sector.
Most RS/GIS programs in the U.S. are offered in departments or colleges of geography, natural resource management, forestry, and civil engineering. Other disciplines offer individual courses in RS/GIS, but these four disciplines provide most instructional programs of multiple, integrated courses. These academic programs are small and cannot adjust rapidly to new advancements taking place in the industry. Further, the smaller firms generally have limited resources for additional on-the-job training to compensate for any educational deficiencies in new staff.
Certificate programs (non-degree supplemental programs) are gaining increased acceptance in the educational community. These programs provide a means for disciplinary specialists to retool their knowledge and skills.
Raising the status of the field of geospatial information within the larger educational framework will be necessary in order to achieve the continuous support of university administrations.
The study also revealed concerns over the retention of qualified employees. Phase II showed that the age structure of workers in the industry follows a bi-modal distribution, with most either older, experienced workers or younger employees, new to the industry. These data suggest that many younger employees are leaving the industry, potentially creating a shortage of mid-level personnel. The reasons for this trend are not clear.
The development of new analytic methods and new geospatial technologies will lead to future growth and new applications, especially in market segments that are currently underserved. Data customers especially desire higher resolution and improved positional accuracy.
Phase I of the study revealed ample opportunities for growth in diverse market segments. Although mapping, civil government, national defense and global security applications of geospatial data/information currently dominate the market, the needs of local and state government for homeland security, environmental assessment, and infrastructure applications are substantial and are likely to increase.
Smaller firms are attempting to provide specialized value-added services on both satellite and aerial products to meet customer needs. Further, the use of both aerial and satellite data is increasing. Hence, the industry appears to have opportunities both for a greater number of firms and continued growth among diverse markets. For example, industry gains only a small portion of revenues from certain business activities with strong geospatial requirements, such as real estate and insurance. These businesses could bring future market opportunities if geospatial information can be tailored to their special needs and potential customers are educated in using such information effectively.
In aerial remote sensing, the transition to digital sensor technologies, some capable of direct geo-registration and elevation collection, has opened new markets for urban mapping and infrastructure inventory and analysis. In general, sensor technologies have increased in diversity and improved in capability during the past two decades. Digital aerial cameras coupled with inertial measurement and onboard GPS enable the low-cost acquisition of geopositioned information, which will assist in opening new markets, especially where pricing has limited acceptance of remotely sensed information.
Data users are evaluating the replacement of multispectral data with hyperspectral data. Growth will be seen in the key areas of hyperspectral, SAR (IFSAR), and LIDAR for aircraft, especially as sensor systems evolve that provide low-cost, broad-area coverage. Hyperspectral sensor systems in development will offer automated feature detection, identification and classification. Markets as diverse as defense, precision agriculture and forestry all benefit from change detection technology. The elevation component of remote sensing from IFSAR and LIDAR sensors also provides high growth potential. These systems can provide data to create highly accurate digital elevation models (DEMs) to markets in need of superior geopositioning and terrain information.
Further, issues of high data cost, delays in acquisition, and licensing of data sales may inhibit adoption of these data by users. Continued industry growth will occur only with the implementation of improved technology and government policies that support geospatial research and development in a number of disciplines.
Phase II evaluated the customer’s data needs by undertaking a detailed requirements analysis of “use versus need” as a function of multiple user types. Data characteristics included Ground Sample Distance (GSD), Geopositional accuracy, data layers, elevation accuracy and data timeliness. While all are important to the remote-sensing industry, small GSD and high geopositional accuracy are critical. Neither the needs of the academic data customers nor those of governmental data customers are being met at sufficiently high levels of accuracy.
Forecast data imply that data users desire resolutions smaller than three feet (0.9 m) (Figure 4). Data sets may be used to assess urban infrastructure or for high-accuracy mapping. Further, they can be used to delineate details in the environmental, forestry and agriculture segments. High-resolution imagery over broad areas requires high levels of data storage, which will require improvements in computer storage capacity and access speed. Geospatial data and information users desire improved geopositional accuracy, signifying market opportunities for firms interested in achieving more stringent geo-positioning. Direct geo-registration techniques have increased data collection firms’ ability to achieve improved positioning, but additional R&D will be required to reduce costs and improve market penetration of high-accuracy techniques.
|Figure 4 - comspatial resolution: comparison of use vs. need|
The remote sensing industry is growing, though supportive government policies will be needed to foster continuing growth. There is a tight linkage among commerce, government and academia in this highly fragmented industry. New technologies, data and sensors from air and space are fostering growth. However, limited workforce availability, as well as inconsistent federal policy on data holdings, technical restrictions and exports, limits industry growth.
Acknowledgements: The authors are deeply indebted to all of the ASPRS volunteers, Ronald Rabin and his staff at Stennis Space Center , Tim Stryker and Katy Vincent at NOAA, and to James Plasker and his staff at the ASPRS in Bethesda , Maryland .
The complete forecast report is available from ASPRS at 301-493-0290 x101. Information is available at www.asprs.org.